What Can Fantasy Football Owners Expect From Chris Thompson in 2018?
Sometimes in sports, players, teams or even situations can be so unique that it's hard to wrap your head around what they do. In other words, what's their exact value and how do they get to it?
In that same way, projecting Chris Thompson’s fantasy value is harder than it may seem. On one hand, Thompson was a fantasy darling through the first 11 weeks of the 2017 season. But, on the other, he is returning from a gruesome leg injury, and the team has vowed to keep him from a workhorse-type role.
Taking everything into account, from Thompson's talent and production to his ongoing recovery, we're here to take a look at what those drafting him can expect during the 2018 fantasy campaign.
Efficiency and Opportunity
To understand how efficient Thompson was last year you have to understand what he did with his touches. Last year, he totaled 64 carries and 39 receptions for a combined 804 yards and 6 touchdowns. In summary, that is a 5.8% touchdown rate on an average of 9.36 touches per game. His 153 fantasy points based on point-per-reception (PPR) scoring brought his average to 1.49 fantasy points per touch.
As not to get bogged down by just numbers, let’s also look at the situation Thompson was in. Thompson was the third-down back behind a weak offensive line and a weaker set of first- and second-down backs in Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine. Between the three, they combined for 365 touches when all was said and done. Thompson, in just 11 weeks, had 153 of them (41.9%). His role in the offense as the third-down back was as a receiving option, primarily a safety net for then-quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Behind a bad offensive line Cousins was sacked 36 times and pressured a whopping 216 times. With offensive linemen like that, who needs to throw it deep? This led to a lot of dump off plays from Cousins to Thompson, and the result was an average depth of target (aDOT) of 2.5 yards, according to airyards.com.
If we were to swap out Cousins for new 'Skins signal caller Alex Smith, you might think that all the talk about dump offs is simply foreshadowing of the coming year. If the quarterback situation is expected to remain the same, what's different?
With the early injury to rookie Derrius Guice, we see similar characters in our 2018 narrative. Sure, the Redskins added future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, but let’s call that what it is -- Peterson is not going to eat into Thompson’s workload. In all his years, Peterson has five -- yes, five -- career receiving touchdowns and 2,015 receiving yards.
With regards to Kelly and Perine, that is a ship that has been tested and it just does not hold water. Kelly and Perine will be fine relief for the aging Peterson, but they will not dig into Thompson’s third-down role either. When the Redskins drafted Guice, everyone wondered if Thompson would maintain his role. Head Coach Jay Gruden did not hesitate in letting everyone know that he is not worried about Guice’s pass-catching abilities, because that is what they have Thompson for.
The Smith Effect
So, let’s look forward. What does 2018 have in store for Thompson?
First, we should look at Smith, his quarterback. The perennial dump off guy, Smith has been known as a guy that plays it safe. To give you a better snapshot of this, his career aDOT is 7.3 yards. The following are his rankings in three categories, which speak to his usage of dump offs. (All rankings are for quarterbacks who played in 10 or more games since 2009.)
|Yards Per Attempt||27th||22nd||19th||5th||24th||15th||14th||16th||2nd|
|Air Yards Per Attempt||24th||26th||27th||20th||35th||31st||27th||28th||11th|
Smith has ranked top 10 in yards per attempt twice -- second last year -- while ranking in the bottom 10 a total of 17 times across all three statistical categories.
Obviously, this gets skewed by wide receivers, so let’s take them out of the equation. Since 2010, Smith’s aDOT to his running backs has been 0.33 yards. Spencer Ware’s aDOT of 2.7 in 2016 was Smith’s career high.
That's to say that Thompson is about to be Smith’s best friend this year.
While I can sing Thompson’s praises for another 300 words or so, Thompson does come with an injury risk. Not only is he still, in his own words, not 100% from his leg fracture last year, but Thompson comes with a laundry list of medical issues since his college days. Since 2011 he has had the following major injuries: broken right fibula, torn left shoulder labrum (twice), bruised back, sprained ankle, torn left ACL and back vertebral fracture (two compression fractures).
To say the least, this gives us cause for concern. You are buying a fantasy asset that has a 57.5% chance of getting injured on the season, according to Sports Injury Predictor. With that, you have to consider injury and time missed when projecting how he will perform in 2018.
How we can attempt to do that is through extrapolating from previous seasons and using our in-house projections to look at what Thompson’s possible value can be. If he's healthy all year, our algorithms like Thompson to put up 119.8 standard fantasy points on 131.6 touches (62.9 catches), 908.9 yards and 5.08 touchdowns. Converted to PPR scoring, that's 183.0 points over 16 games (11.4 per), which ranks 22nd among all running backs. However, if we expect Thompson to miss about three games, that would cut his production to roughly 148.7 PPR points on the year, which would land him 32nd, behind Royce Freeman and ahead of Tevin Coleman.
Because of the injury risk associated with him, the potential for a higher return is there. He is low on draft boards, and per Fantasy Football Calculator, is generally being drafted around running backs like Rex Burkhead (pick 6.01) and Ronald Jones (6.09) in PPR formats. He makes for a nice RB2 in the sixth round (6.05 overall; RB28) of average drafts.
The Redskins' offense is now built in a way that should allow Thompson to thrive. If he can get healthy and stay on the field, he will yet again light up the field this season.